The Daily Star

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Monday, February 18, 2013
Business

Processed foods to watch out for

Many of them have no licence

How safe it is to consume processed foods remains up in the air due to government's negligence, with many of the items having no quality certification from government agencies.

Of the hundreds of processed food products, Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI), the standardisation and certification body, stipulates certification for only 59.

Certification requirement for the rest of the items are 'optional', meaning manufacturers are free to decide whether they will seek licences from the BSTI and comply with its standards.

Conversely, it is the processors themselves who deem whether the items are safe for consumption or not -- and not the government's standardisation and certification body.

Consumers and analysts expressed concerns over the matter and wanted the BSTI to bring all processed food items under the umbrella of compulsory certification.

"All food products must be standardised and brought under the BSTI's mandatory licensing regime," said ABM Faroque, a pharmacy professor at Dhaka University.

Referring to the recent cancellations of optional licences of Pran and some other processors of fruit drinks, Faroque said consumers do not want to hear the difference between drinks and juice.

Fruit drinks contain a minimum of 10 percent fruit pulp, while fruit juices contain 88 percent pulp.

"People do not understand this sort of distinction. They buy and consume processed foods in good faith that these products are made of natural ingredients and are safe," said Faroque, also a campaigner for consumer rights.

He said no food item can be traded in the US without the approval of its Food and Drug Administration.

"But companies here are selling many food items through misleading advertisements and using artificial ingredients. It is a crime," said Faroque, who represents Dhaka University at a committee at the BSTI.

The BSTI, however, said it lacks the manpower and laboratory support to bring more products under the compulsory licensing requirement.

"Our surveillance is better if the list of products under the compulsory certification category is kept small," AK Fazlul Ahad, director general of BSTI, told The Daily Star recently.

"Our volume of work will rise. It will be tough for us to carry out surveillance activities properly if we increase the number of products under mandatory licensing requirement," he said.

The BSTI chief said the Pure Food (amendment) Act 2005 empowers agencies such as the local government authorities to take action against food adulteration.

So far, the BSTI has developed standards for 348 processed food items, but none for many of the popular items such as the 'mango bar'.

Officials said the agency makes certification of a product compulsory based on directives from policymakers and demand from consumers and processors.

Abul Hossain Mian, director general of the Directorate of National Consumers Rights Protection, said the BSTI should give the highest priority to food products and make licensing mandatory for as many items as possible.

"The number of processed food items is rising and the mandatory licensing requirement for processed foods is essential for public health," said Mian.

The directorate, however, is yet to raise the issue of compulsory licensing to any government forum.

"We will put the matter forward in future," he said.

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